Five days after Music Midtown and Peter Conlon is still exhausted.
Who can blame him, considering the double-size scope of this year’s event?
Overall, he said he thought the festival went “very well. There are a few things – there always are – that you learn from every event. I watched everything and will make changes next year to reflect that, but it seemed people were having a good time. I’m pleased.”
Though Conlon, the president of Live Nation Atlanta, which produced the event, was reluctant to cite specific crowd numbers, he did say that Friday’s show with the Foo Fighters headlining was about the same size as last year’s main day with Coldplay (about 38,000) and that he made the call to halt ticket sales Saturday afternoon before capacity bordered on uncomfortable.
It’s a safe estimate that more than 50,000 people filled Piedmont Park on Saturday by the time headliners Pearl Jam took the stage.
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While the majority of attendees took the usual inconveniences of outdoor concert-going in stride – lengthy lines at portable bathrooms, cash only at most vendors, having to navigate through thousands of people to locate a good vantage point – many fans publicly groused about some of those issues, so I asked Conlon to discuss.
The complaint that there weren’t enough portable restrooms: “The problem is that people think they’d all be in one area, but we had them spread out. I noticed people standing in lines in the same area, but if you went over the hill [near the Ferris Wheel], there were no lines. There were hundreds of [bathrooms], but you can’t stick X-number of them down on the field because they’re terrible things to have to deal with. We always have a certain number of bathrooms per certain number of people, but people just went to the first bank they saw and followed the lines. We’ll need to do a better job with monitors or something to educate people and tell them where there are no lines.”
The complaint about the bathrooms being a bit, well, rank: “They were definitely serviced after Friday night’s show and during the day on Saturday. They have to be.”
The cash-only complaint that escalated when the ATMs ran out of cash: “I went to get cash around 6 p.m. Saturday and couldn’t and, since I couldn’t leave the site, I was just out of money. Whoever was providing the ATMS, they won’t be back. If they’re not going to service their machines and make money available, we won’t be using them again.”
Some attendees commented that the sound during Pearl Jam’s set was less than stellar: “They had some sound issues at the beginning of the day Saturday, but that got cleared up. I thought [throughout the event] the sound was great, the definition on the video screens was great. You could see the sweat on Eddie’s [Vedder’s] face.”
As busy as Conlon was during the event, he did experience a few cool moments, such as standing next to Florence Welch on the side of the stage as she watched Ludacris’ set. “She’s a big fan,” Conlon said. “I think they’re talking about doing something together.”
He was also impressed with the “incredible” show from the Foo Fighters, Joan Jett’s set (“Every song is a hit!”), the always-entertaining Adam Ant and the energy of Girl Talk.
This year’s expansion to include more diversity in the lineup also seemed to work well.
“Some people said when the lineup was first announced, ‘I don’t get it.’ But now that they saw it, they do. That was the point, to expose you to music that you might not get exposed to, but not be such a far reach that it turns you off,” Conlon said.
Conlon wasn’t yet ready to say whether next year’s event will grow again, to three days, but said he was meeting with his team on Thursday to recap what worked, what didn’t and to reassess.
But don’t worry – Music Midtown will be back, and, barring some unforeseen schedule problem, will remain on the first fall weekend of the year.
“The problem now is, how do we make it better? People are happy, but they want more. How’s it going to be bigger and better than the acts we just had?” Conlon said. “The good thing is that now we’re on everybody’s radar screen again. We established it as a major festival in the country and acts are starting to say, ‘I want to play that thing.’